The reason that Feministing is being boycotted is, at least most directly, because of this comment thread. Queen Emily discusses the comment thread and the many things that are wrong with it in this post on Questioning Transphobia.
That’s not what I want to talk about, though. What I want to talk about, of course, is why Feministe is also on that graphic. Though Voz refers in both cases to a “history of mistreating and disrespecting trans women,” the reason that Feministe is being boycotted is most directly because of a thread on a post which I wrote and was therefore responsible for, called By Any Other Name, a post that was mostly about trans misogyny in an article at Nerve. Lucy has more about why this comment thread angered so many, but the short version is this: a thread that should have focused on the concerns of trans women instead was turned around by cis commenters to focus on the concerns of cis women. And I did little to nothing to stop it.
The longer version is this:
Elaine left a comment, which was only tangentially related to a passing remark that I made in the post about the book Cunt, about how she personally believes that it’s a good thing for women to stop taking hormonal birth control. Since this was a provocative comment, others responded to it. And cis commenters quickly derailed the thread, turning it into a cis-centered discussion about their relationships with hormonal birth control.
It wasn’t until Voz and GallingGalla, both trans women, stepped in to point this fact out that anyone even seemed to notice. I myself noticed the derail, and found it highly annoying — but, I will confess, primarily because I found the subject matter annoying. Not because it was taking attention off of trans concerns. What I, as a cis woman, deeply misunderstood as a mere annoyance, trans women understood as damaging, silencing and erasing. My cis privilege blinded me to that, and as a result, Voz and GallingGalla ended up stepping in to do my work for me.
Another commenter, Kathryn, then said “Not all discussions that crop up will be concerns to all women. Isn’t that bound to happen?” And yeah, people got fucking pissed. It was much more than annoying, it was downright insulting, explicitly silencing and essentially arguing that since not all discussions will affect all women, it is therefore okay to put the issues affecting the most marginalized women on the backburner. And though I responded, as soon as I saw the comment two hours later, I realize too late that my response to it was not even nearly forceful enough.
When Voz then left an angry comment that I felt was out of line and could not be published on this blog (and I still feel now that I could not have left it up in good conscience), I deleted this portion of the comment and explained that it could not be left up. The problem was that while I still think that I made a reasonable decision in this case, the response ended up being extraordinarily disproportionate to the way in which I handled Kathryn’s comment. Again, my cis privilege allowed me to ignore the proper reading of the situation. As a cis woman, I saw Voz’s comment as triggering, inappropriate and unnecessary. I seriously failed to interpret Kathryn’s the same way.
Individual commenters are responsible for the comments that they themselves left. But I take full responsibility, as moderator on that thread, for how things went down.
One of the alternately fun and infuriating things about blogging is that there is no real consensus on how much of it is supposed to “work.” One of the areas of most contention is comment moderation. How much responsibility do comment moderators have for what is said on the thread? When it is it appropriate for them to step in? Are they responsible for what other people say? These are questions which we all have different answers to, including all of the bloggers here, but it has long been my personal belief that we as bloggers have responsibility for what is said on our own threads. I have responsibility for what is said on my own threads. I don’t think that we can or want to micromanage everything that is said on every thread — but it is our space, and if we fail to speak up when something unacceptable is happening, I think that we are implicitly condoning it. Obviously the larger a space gets the more difficult it gets to enforce. But I will be frank and say that while I enjoy the amount of traffic that Feministe gets, I don’t want it to get so large that we lose control over what is and is not acceptable here. By this standard, it is absolutely impossible for me to not take responsibility for what happened.
And so, for all of this, I sincerely apologize. For not being more clear about the focus of the post in the first place, I apologize. For not stomping on the birth control derail immediately and appropriately, I apologize. For wildly mishandling Kathryn’s comment, I apologize most of all. For handling Voz’s comment disproportionately, I apologize as well. And for all around not living up to my professed ethos regarding comment moderation, but quite clearly only when it comes to the concerns of some women, I apologize.
I also know that apologies will not just fix everything and restore the trust of trans women, which was already on extraordinarily shaky grounds. I know this in theory, and I also know it from real experience. I know because Voz and I have been having ongoing email conversations on this subject since the incident first occurred — it must be said that many of the ideas in the post stem from those conversations, which have been a real learning and humbling experience for me, and that she originally asked me to write this post (and I readily agreed because I thought she was right) — and despite the fact that I have repeatedly apologized and she is currently on speaking terms with me, she still feels that this boycott is necessary.
And I know because one of my longest-running commenters — a commenter whose presence meant more to me than I think she ever knew, sadly — has decided that she wants nothing to do with me, and will no longer be reading my blogs. She has decided that they are not safe spaces for trans women, and that my actions display a lack of caring and respect for them, for her.
You may disagree with all of this. You may think that something has been made out of nothing, or that people are overreacting; I hope you don’t, but you may. But I do know in my heart that when Kathryn felt comfortable in leaving her comment, when some trans women feel a need to boycott, and when another trans woman independently decided before a boycott was announced that she no longer wanted anything to do with me, something is terribly wrong. That is way, way more than enough to tell me that. It’s way, way more than I should have needed.
And there is something terribly wrong. Feminism has a long, rich history of transphobia and trans misogyny, and that history is still very much ongoing. While outright trans hatred is less commonly tolerated, it still runs rampant in many feminist circles. And even those cis feminists who do consider themselves “allies” to trans people, and who consider trans women to be women whose issues damn well should be addressed under feminism, far too often merely play lip service to the idea. Even when we think we’re doing quite the good job just by acknowledging trans issues at all.
I include myself here, certainly. Renee at Womanist Musings recently put up a post about how she’s been getting emails saying that she focuses too frequently on the issues affecting trans women. She thought this was ludicrous, but decided to go do the math for herself just as an exercise, and found that a mere 5% of her posts were on the topic of trans issues. She was surprised by this; reading her blog, I was shocked as well.
I don’t need to do the math to know that I’m way lower than that. I don’t need to do the math to figure out that Feministe is way lower than that. Even though three of our bloggers have some sort of history that falls under the broad umbrella of “trans,” we are a still seen a cis-centered blog, and looking at the actual content of the blog tells us that there is good reason. Looking at the low rate of posts on trans-centered topics tells us that. Looking at the fact that a thread about a Seth Rogen movie that had already been discussed to death on other blogs gets more comments in a couple hours than a post about the murder of a trans woman gets in days tells us that. And so, I just know that I, and we Feministe as a blogging whole, blog about trans issues at a likely significantly lower rate than 5% of our overall content.
And all I can say to that is: what a sad fucking state of affairs. And no wonder many trans women are absolutely furious.
That’s the thing about this boycott. Though these instances are being the most heavily discussed at the moment, they are not isolated. They are ongoing, structural problems in the feminist blogging community. Trans issues are not discussed nearly often enough. And when they are discussed, quite often the thread gets turned back around to talk about cis concerns anyway. The phrase “straw that broke the camel’s back” came up on Voz’s thread. And basically, the straw sure as hell counts, but we need to talk about all of the other shit that was put up there in the first place, too.
I will not take a stance on whether or not you should join the boycott. That is up to you to decide. After all, it should go without saying that of course not all trans women even agree that the boycott is necessary and/or worthwhile. But I support the right for it to happen, I support the right of women both individually and as a group to decide which spaces are and are not safe for them, and respect the reason that the boycott is happening. And it will sure as hell not be up to me to decide when, if ever, it is time for it to end.
I will say, simply, that I intend to do better. I have learned a lot very quickly in the past week or so but I plan to put it to good use. I plan to keep learning, without demanding or needing for someone to hold my hand. I plan to ask for and accept help in this regard when offered, but never once expect it. I plan moderate comments much more carefully in the future, and respect, as Voz aptly put it, the fragility and rarity of trans spaces. I plan to work towards making Feministe, and my own blog The Curvature, a safer space where more trans women can feel welcome than currently do. I plan to spend more of my time attempting to bring attention to trans issues. Though I do not plan to fuck up again in the future, I’m fully aware of the good chances that I might — I do plan to take full responsibility if it happens and to not expect second chances.
And I plan to be judged not on my plans, but on my actions.
I hope only that others will also recognize the problem, and work towards the same ends.
This thread will be heavily moderated. All comments must respect that this thread is a trans centric space, and not take away from that focus.
Also, please note that some comments which do not abide by these rules may not go to moderation first and instead be automatically posted for all to see — I will delete such comments as soon as I know they are there.
- Update on the New Orleans Women’s Health Clinic: It’s Down by Holly July 1, 2009
- Remembrance and Action by Jack November 18, 2008
- Dr. Susan Stryker Tonight on Blogtalk Radio by Cara August 2, 2009
- The Angry Tranny: Tone Arguments and Trans Women by Cara March 29, 2010
- “Women and Trans” Health Care Really Ought to Mean It by Holly June 27, 2009